Centennials Prepping For Another Action-Packed Weekend:
Here is today's Merritt Herald article, as written by Ian Webster.
Merritt Centennials’ netminder Devin Kero was absolutely sensational on Friday night in leading his team to a thrilling 2-1 victory over the visiting Penticton Vees in front of almost 900 enthusiastic fans at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
Kero turned aside 35 of 36 Penticton shots, including 15 in the third period, to backstop the Cents to just their second win in seven games this season against the Interior Division-leading Vees.
“It might have been the best game that Devin played for us this year,” said Centennials head coach and GM Luke Pierce. “He was outstanding.”
Kero, who has allowed just one goal in each of his last two starts (both Cents’ wins) is understandably feeling good about his recent play.
“I’m really comfortable with my game and confident right now,” the 19-year-old native of Hancock, Mich. said. “When I’m on, I notice that I’m tracking the puck really well, controlling my rebounds and finding a way to get to the puck. I also pride myself on being athletic and getting to the back door plays that you don’t always have much of a chance on.”
Providing all the scoring that Merritt would need against the Vees were a pair of Cents’ energizer bunnies — Diego Cuglietta and Daniel Nachbaur.
Cuglietta made up for a missed penalty shot early in the second period with the game’s first goal a few shifts later. Skating in on a two-on-one with Adam Tracey, Cuglietta elected to shoot and buried the puck behind Vees’ starting goalie Hunter Miska.
After Penticton’s Brad McClure tied the game on the powerplay just seven seconds into the third period, it was a bit of Nachbaur ‘magic’ that put the Cents back in front for good.
“We were exiting our zone,” Nachbaur explained. “Payton [Schaefer] had the puck and I think he was trying a rink-wide pass, but the puck ended up deflecting off my rear end. It went right between their two defencemen. I managed to beat them to it and found myself on a short breakaway. I went to my backhand and got the puck past the goalie, between his body and arm.”
Nachbaur’s game winner Friday night was his second in a week. He also had the go-ahead goal on Jan. 10 in Merritt’s 4-3 victory over the Nanaimo Clippers.
“Daniel’s goal against Penticton really developed out of nothing,” said Pierce. “He’s a great skater, and he’s got very slick hands at speed. He uses quite a short stick which allows him to do some good things.”
Nachbaur is just pleased to be finally back playing and contributing.
“It was difficult being injured and out of the line-up for almost three months. It took awhile for me to get my timing, but I finally feel that I’ve got that edge back that I had before.”
Equally impressive in recent games has been the revitalized play of the Cents’ blueline corps, led by new acquisition Jason Bird.
“The experience that Jason brings to the team is huge,” said Cents assistant coach Joe Martin. “It’s the patience he shows, the way he plays with and without the puck. It’s been a big lift for everybody.”
Bird’s arrival has allowed coach Martin to keep veterans Dane Birks and Tyler Martin together as one pairing, and team Shane Poulsen with Bird as a second unit. In recent games, it’s been steady Jake Clifford with vastly-improved Wayland Williams as the third twosome.
“It’s created a backend that’s much more consistent and comfortable on the ice,” said Martin. “As long as nobody gets ahead of themselves, and [everybody] continues to play sound defensive hockey, we should be in good shape.”
Despite winning both their games this past week, Merritt slipped back into fifth place in the BCHL’s Interior Division standings, two points behind Salmon Arm in the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot, and six back of the Vernon Vipers who occupy third place. The Cents have two games in hand on both teams, and play five of their next seven games at home.
Before entertaining the Vipers this Saturday night, the Centennials must make a trip to Coquitlam on Friday to take on the Express. Both games will be tough, according to Pierce.
“[The Express] play a very offensive-minded game and score a lot of goals. We will need to play our style of game and just grind them down.
“As for Vernon, I didn’t think they played a very good game here last time (a 4-1 win for Merritt on Jan. 10), said Pierce. “They’re dangerous when all their players show up. And, like us, they’re in the dogfight that is our division.”